Black Flags and Windmills is scott crow's first-person account of his experiences as one of the leaders of a volunteer group that assembled in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, in an effort to directly help people and make a difference on the scene in Algiers. It is a harrowing narrative, and crow (the author uses all lower case letters in his name) does an excellent job of conveying all the many emotions that he went through, as he became aware that a friend of his (a fellow activist for peace and civil rights) was among the many cut off from help in that section of the NOLA area. He takes the reader along for the ride as he experiences everything from compassion, fear, hesitation, heartbreak, feelings of helplessness, and then on through the fear to courage borne of outrage and righteous indignation, with the end result being effective, direct action.
Along the way, crow interweaves into his text a personal memoir that recounts the twists and turns of his life that led a lower-middle class kid who came of age in a dismal, intellectually stultified suburb of Dallas, TX during the Reagan 80 to eventually land with both feet in a sort of compassionate, collectivist socio-political movement that crow describes as "'little a' anarchism". The author does a fair job of painting this picture for a general audience. (While I come from a similar socio-economic background to crow's, I was largely unaware of the various activist and peace movements simmering right under my nose all these years). I get the impression that the various strands of these movements can be somewhat insular and operate (perhaps by necessity) in a rarefied environment, but crow walks a careful balance for the reader, avoiding the temptation to be too didactic on the one hand, while at the same time trying not to talk in movement jargon that will alienate the general reader like myself.
What we ultimately get with crow's first full length publication, is an interesting mix of on-the-streets narrative, personal memoir, activist primer and perhaps even a bit of a manifesto (I mean that in a good way). Given the scope of what crow is trying to convey and all that he is trying recount, he can certainly be forgiven for a bit of unevenness in the book as a whole. Where the book truly takes off and soars is in the way it shows us the disaster of Katrina, and the disaster of our government's ham-fisted response to it, through the lens of a compassionate group of people who risked their health and safety to act directly, instead of sitting at home watching television in horror and waiting for others to act.
The icing on the cake, is that we get an introduction to a very different way of looking at the world and its structures of power, a world-view that put scott crow and his colleagues in the right place, at the right time, to do the right thing by his conscience and for his friends in Algiers. This is a book that will shake up your ideas about your personal safety and security under the supposedly solid ground of America's infrastructure and the supposedly benevolent hand of federal government, and it is a book that will make you start thinking about where your own responsibility begins, in your own personal search for the right ways to do the right thing in a nation gone wrong.